My Story "Esgūdijī"


Dénht'ā? Eszį' Vashti Etzel gūye'. Tułidlini Dene lāst'ā. Shuhta Dene yeh Kaska Dene lāst'ā. Golden Eye Designs nénehstîg.

Hello I am Vashti Etzel. I am a Shuhta Dene (Mountain Slavey) Kaska Dene, German from my Mothers side and Chipewyan, Cree, Scottish from my Fathers side. I am from the unceded territory of Kaska Dene, Tułidlini (Ross River), Yukon. I was raised up the Dene way, primarily from my Mothers family, who is Mountain Slavey. I am the owner of Golden Eye Designs. I was born in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories and raised in Ross River, Yukon where most of my family resides. My late grandmother's family comes from Tulita/Norman Wells area. I grew up in one of the most beautiful places on earth and was taught invaluable traditional skills at a young age. I am a Mother to three incredible little boys who give me so much life. I am the partner to a super talented Kaska/ Slavey/Scottish man who is my rock, my number one fan, my support system and partner for life. This would not  have been possible if it weren't for my family, friends, mentors, elder mentors and our beautiful land. Mahsi cho, Souga Sinla! I love you.

My late grandfather was Robert Etzel who was part Kaska Dene/Northern Tutchone and German. He was a trapper, land steward, gardener, knowledge keeper, prospector and gave me a lot of guidance that I value today. He was quiet and reserved. He was diagnosed with TB at a very young age and was hospitalized until early adulthood. Which is probably why he was a very quiet man but spoke very wise words. He was never quiet around family, he would often engage and share stories of pre-contact days and when colonialism began. He was very intelligent and adapted well to surroundings. My Grandfather passed away in 2018. I miss him dearly.

My late grandmother Eva Etzel (Ollie) was 100% Shuhta Dene (Mountain Slavey) from Northwest Territories. She was the Matriarch of the family, she sewed for her family and made a living from it. She was a very strong woman, talented, knowledgeable and had a very caring heart. My grandmother was a residential school survivor. Her and her siblings attended Whitehorse Residential School. Her parents moved to Whitehorse and built a cabin on fish lake road to be closer to the children. My great grandparents would sneak oranges to the kids through the fence when they were outside. Unfortunately, my grandmother passed away when I was only 7 years old. She was my favorite person in the world. I would always be with her or follow her around.

My grandma Eva and my grandfather Robert would hunt, provide and tan hides together. They raised nine children in Ross River, Yukon in a small three bedroom house beside the Pelly River. I looked up to them as they provide guidance and are a big part of who I am today. 

At a young age I discovered my talent in art. I grew up drawing, coloring and painting. My mother was very encouraging when she saw my talent and would provide me with art supplies. Once she noticed I had interest in sewing she gifted me my late grandmother's sewing supplies.

Our family uprooted to Smithers, B.C from Ross River, Yukon for five years. My parents were both entrepreneurs and owned businesses.

I finished high school in Whitehorse, Yukon and went to Mount Royal University to study Earth Science. I worked in the mining industry for ten years as a junior geologist. It was not for me. I enjoyed being out on the land but not mining for resources. I made the switch to study Environmental Science and became a Environmental Monitor. I felt more comfortable knowing I was protecting Kaska land as a monitor and land steward.

Golden Eye Designs began when my first son was born. I wanted my son to have the things I had when I was a child. My late grandmother made me moccasins and vests. I am a self taught artist but I also believe in blood memory and that I inherited this gift of traditional skill from my late grandmother. The name "Gold Eye" was a name I was called by many family members and elders. I have colored eyes and Vashti wasn't easy to pronounce for some of the elders. So my sweetheart gave me the idea of naming my business "Golden Eye Designs".

The business really lifted off when I designed and sewed a poppy. I shared the poppy on social media and I was unable to keep up with the demand. This was when I discovered that I can create and make a living. I started taking custom orders for moccasins and it eventually led to statement luxe jewelry. Today I am creating wearable art for anyone who understands and appreciates slow fashion and Indigenous history.

In 2020-2021 I began really honing in on my potential. I started studying and learning my Kaska language. I owe a lot to our language instructors for all the teachings. I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to connect. I was one of the twelve women who were chosen for Entreprenorth's Circumpolar Fashion Cohort where we got the chance to flourish and elevate our Indigenous businesses to the next level.

I enjoy building relationships, involving Indigenous peoples from the community to model my work, to share my knowledge and skill, to encourage, to build confidence, strength, resilience and to embrace sacred beauty.

         Thank you for following me on my journey. Mahsi Cho. Souga Sinla.